Leaders: Take Care of Yourself

August was an incredibly busy season for me. My last road trip of that month was with a team that I work with regularly. Anytime I walk into their offices I feel like I am at home and I was looking forward to capping off a long stretch on the road with them. After we finished two full days of leadership development, team building, individual meetings, and staff meetings I walked back to my hotel. I took the elevator to the 7th floor and just as the doors opened something shocking happened; I started to cry. This is not the norm for me. To say I was surprised is a very serious understatement!

I walked toward my room feeling caught off guard and really confused. Then I heard myself say the following words out loud, “Oh, I think I am tired, really, really tired.” It wasn’t that I needed a nap, or a Netflix and chill type day, I needed to totally unplug and completely recharge. August had been busy, but the harsh reality was I had been going non-stop for three and a half years as I worked to build a business from scratch. I had done a good job of taking weekend vacations with friends and setting aside time for personal development retreats, but I had not intentionally and completely unplugged, and my body was literally crying out, telling me it was time to shut down.

I decided to practice what I preach, and I booked a week in Florida for what I was calling a soul-cation. There was only one rule for the week; do only what you want to do. This meant I slept, ate, read, and sat on the beach when I wanted to, and it was amazingly life-giving. My soul needed to disconnect and then recharge so I became a human solar panel. I simply couldn’t outwork or push through the fact that I was on empty.

During my time in the sun, I was reminded of a serendipitous moment. A few months earlier I was on a retreat. I was sitting in the lobby talking with Parker Palmer and he said to me, “Molly, I think you would really like the work of Jerry Colonna.” When one of your heroes gives you advice, you pay attention. I can say that discovering Jerry’s work has been a highlight of the year. He has been a tremendous influence as I try to balance the highs, joy, and gratitude of the work I love coupled with the fact that it is also hard, scary, and exhausting.

These words from Jerry’s latest book, Reboot; Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, ring very true for me, “When we stand still, we run the risk of remembering who we are. When we stop the spinning, we run the risk of confronting the fears, the demons who have chased us all our lives. When we stop the bullshitting, the pretending that we’re crushing it, that we’ve got it all figured out, we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the realities of all that we carry - the burdens we’re convinced must remain a secret to keep us and those we love safe, warm, and happy.” When people ask me how my business is doing, I often sense that they want just one side of the story; to hear that it’s great or, that it’s hard. But if I am being honest, it is both, always both, because with the freedom of owning your own business comes a lot of uncertainty. With the joy of leading comes the fear that I might mess it up. With the gratitude of this opportunity comes the weight that this work matters. I needed to stop long enough to find my place in the space between those two extremes. This allowed me to be present in holding this tension again.

Maybe you are crushing it, and what else? What is difficult, exhaustion, or draining? What keeps you up at night? What parts of yourself do you need to find again? Where in your life is your soul asking you to stop spinning and stop running?

You may have been taught to believe that you can power through all the challenges you face, but every elite level athlete knows that rest, recovery, and regeneration are all a part of the process of becoming the best. It wouldn’t feel right to refer to leadership as a game, the stakes are far too high to do that, but being a leader does require endurance for the journey. The only way to have sustained longevity in the space of influencing others is to take care of yourself. And while leadership is not all about you, your self-care is all up to you.

I understand that you might not be able to take a soul-cation right now, but I hope you will be purposeful in leading your own self-care plan. For me, that means a compassionate therapist, a 24-hour gym, an amazing chiropractor, a trusted massage therapist, and friends who understand that my work may cause me to be inconsistently present, but when I do resurface they choose to show up in my life and for that I am grateful. 

When you take care of yourself you will be better able to take care of others. If you are waiting for someone to give you permission to show up for yourself, permission granted.

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